It’s odd. There seems to be more of a battle being waged against nicotine vaping than weed vaping.
As the New England Journal of Medicine reports, “federal and state governments have implemented numerous policies to combat the growth of vaping.” It’s a continuation of the decades-long fight against the tobacco industry, which now dominates the vaping industry as well.
Cannabis vaping, and more specifically the use of THC vape pens, seems to largely have flown under the radar — even though the number of people vaping marijuana is increasing at an astronomical rate.
One recent study cited by the National Institutes of Health found that weed vaping among college-age adults rose from 5.2% to 14% in just two years.
Why have THC vape pens become so popular so quickly? And are they a better choice than traditional smoking?
Let’s find out.
The History of Vape Pens
The campaign to eliminate cigarette smoking in America changed dramatically in 2007. That’s when the first electronic cigarettes arrived on the market.
They didn’t look very much like the e-cigs that are popular today. They were often referred to as “cigalikes” because they were designed to look just like cigarettes.
These e-cigarettes had disposable “filters” containing nicotine juice, known as cartomizers, which screwed onto rechargeable batteries. Cigalikes never gained widespread acceptance in the market.
A technological advance altered the industry a few years later: “clearomizers,” which could be filled with e-juice and reused. Those paved the way for modern vape pens, which became the most popular form of e-cigarettes by 2012.
It wasn’t long before manufacturers — and the cannabis industry — took advantage. After all, there was no reason that tanks (as clearomizers became known) on vape pens had to be filled with nicotine e-juice. The cannabis oil concentrates that were used to fill large weed vaporizers could be used in vape pens, too.
The G-Pen, designed for vaping weed, hit the market in 2012. And the “510” screw-top cartridges that remain so popular today first arrived in 2013. (510 describes the thread that screws into a rechargeable battery).
That’s when hand-held vaporizers that can fit into a pocket entered the cannabis mainstream. And today’s THC vape pens are loaded with features that make vaping weed more enjoyable than ever.
The Basics of Modern THC Vape Pens
A THC vape pen is small, cylindrical, and, needless to say, shaped like a pen. Not a skinny Bic pen, but a larger ballpoint pen.
Most of these units have four components.
- Battery: Rechargeable and usually powered by a lithium-ion battery, the battery powers the vape pen’s heating element. Most come with a USB charger.
- Tank: This holds the THC oil that will be vaped and is normally made from glass, plastic, or steel. It also contains the next component.
- Atomizer: This is the heating element built into the tank, responsible for generating the temperatures needed to vaporize weed oil. There are wicks attached to it as well; they “swim” in the oil and absorb the small amount that will be heated for each hit.
- Mouthpiece: You know what this does.
Here’s how those components work together.
- The tank is filled with THC vape oil and screwed onto a charged battery.
- You push the power button on the battery to activate the atomizer. Most models require you to hold the button down as you inhale.
- The oil absorbed by the wicks is heated by the atomizer.
- The vapor that’s created is inhaled through the mouthpiece.
Those are just the simple THC vape pens. If you spend more, you’re able to precisely control the temperature at which the weed oil is heated — customizing the experience.
That’s a nice feature since it allows you to control how much vapor you get on each hit, but it’s not crucial for units only designed to handle oil. Some more advanced models let you swap out tanks to vape other types of concentrates and even raw flower; the proper vaping temperatures vary considerably for each material.
Finally, there’s a bit of irony to discuss. The major breakthrough in the initial development of nicotine vape pens was the creation of refillable tanks, making disposable cigalikes more or less obsolete.
Today, though, most THC vape pens sold in dispensaries are disposable models. They’re inexpensive for manufacturers to produce, and they’re much less expensive for buyers than buying oil or concentrate in bulk. They also allow users to try different strains and potencies without being “stuck” with a bottle of vape juice they wish they hadn’t purchased.
There’s one more question we have to address: what’s in that THC vape pen you buy?
Oil in THC Vape Pens
The vape pen you purchase will be filled with cannabis oil. In most cases, it will have been created to provide the best experience and, ideally, the best possible high.
Weed is distilled to create potent cannabis oil. It’s often produced in a way that concentrates THC content while removing the terpenes and flavonoids that contribute flavor and aroma. That’s why manufacturers often reintroduce terpenes into the THC oil after distillation, returning some of the taste and scent of cannabis.
There’s also likely to be a carrier liquid that creates a better vaping experience. The same carriers used in nicotine vapes are added to THC vaping oil: propylene glycol (PG) and/or vegetable glycerin (VG). They contribute what are called the “mouth feel” and “throat hit” associated with vaping, and they’re safe to consume.
Benefits of Using THC Vape Pens
It’s not difficult to understand why weed vape pens have become so popular.
They’re portable and convenient. They fit easily into a pen or purse; in fact, several of them can fit into a pocket or purse, meaning you can carry several strains of weed around with you. And you don’t have to deal with the messy process of rolling or packing bud or the resin and ash that’s leftover.
They’re discreet. They don’t produce pungent smoke since no flower is burned. The THC oil is heated inside a closed container, and the exhaled vapor has very little odor. And there’s no other way that people would know you’re vaping weed rather than nicotine.
And just like using a desktop vaporizer, THC vape pens are a safer alternative to smoking.
Be sure to buy from a reputable source, though; THC oil cartridges sold on the street or online may not only be low-quality, there’s always the chance that they’ve been contaminated or adulterated.
You’ll end up paying a little more for your enjoyment when you use a THC vape pen instead of smoking bud. But greater and greater numbers of cannabis lovers are finding that spending a few extra bucks on a weed pen is a small tradeoff for its benefits.
THC Vape Pens: FAQ
Q: Isn’t another drawback to THC vape pens the fact that fewer strains are available?
A: Yes, that’s true. You’ll find a better selection in some dispensaries than others, but they’ll always have a wider choice of strains available when you’re purchasing flower. Many people split the difference; they use THC vape pens for everyday use when they’re out and around and smoke their favorite strain when they’re home and relaxing.
Q: Can you make your own THC vape juice?
A: Absolutely, although it’s a lot more time-consuming than just stopping by a dispensary and picking up supplies. The easiest way is to soak decarbed weed in food-grade vegetable glycerin for a few months. The fastest way is by cooking raw weed and vegetable glycerin in an oil bath (a process that’s something like using a double boiler) for hours. Both methods of making THC juice are a lot more involved than that, though, and the product still won’t be as good as the stuff you can purchase at a dispensary.
Sindelar, J. L. (2020). Regulating vaping—policies, possibilities, and perils. New England Journal of Medicine, 382(20), e54 .
National Institutes of Health. (2021). Vaping, marijuana use in 2019 rose in college-age adults .
Hiemstra, P. S., & Bals, R. (2016). Basic science of electronic cigarettes: assessment in cell culture and in vivo models. Respiratory research, 17(1), 1-5 .